Microsoft, China, and Cultural Imperialism
Rebecca MacKinnon has a post on Microsoft’s removal of a blog, run by Michael Anti from their MSN Spaces blog site. (“Why Microsoft censorship in China matters to everybody.”) I’m finding the justifications and responses (both official and unofficial) to be fascinating and ultimately confusing.
Matt Marshall at SiliconBeat has “Microsoft and Bokee mired in Chinese free-speech controversy:”
As a multi-national business, Microsoft operates in countries around the world. Inline with Microsoft practices in global markets, MSN is committed to ensuring that products and services comply with global and local laws, norms, and industry practices. Most countries have laws and practices that require companies providing online services to make the internet safe for local users. Occasionally, as in China, local laws and practices require consideration of unique elements.
In a post titled “Running a Service in China,” Michael Connolly writes:
Through the “report abuse” link at the bottom of every space. If you see inappropriate content, such as pornography, or out-right illegal content, like hate-speech or child pornography, let us know and we’ll investigate the problem and take appropriate action. Our main filter we use is, is this blog adhering to our Code of Conduct?
Cyberspace People Watcher writes in a post (also titled) “Running a service in China:”
There are a lot of Chinese bloggers using MSN Spaces. That means there is a lot of speech still going on. That is a good thing. I believe that people in China can still read this blog. I think that is a good thing. Would the cause of freedom be aided by placing the Chinese government in a position where they felt they had to lock all MSN Spaces out of the country? I doubt it. If you think so please make the case. I would love to read it.
What I find most confusing here is the conflation of local law and local practice, along with MSN’s ‘code of conduct.’ They are three different things. If the benefit of having a US run service is that we bring some of our cultural ideas, like freedom of speech, to China, and the Chinese people benefit. We might also bring our distinctions between law, custom, and contract and show people how those work. That only works if we bring those ideas, not leave them at the border in a mis-placed respect for “local practices.” Those local practices are enforced by a government who throws people in jail, or runs them over with tanks, for non-compliance.
So, I’m confused, are you there to bring western, enlightenment ideas to the table or are you there to make money? Because the enlightenment was just shut off in a display of what counts.
Lastly, I’d like to respond directly to Cyberspace People Watcher’s question “Would the cause of freedom be aided by placing the Chinese government in a position where they felt they had to lock all MSN Spaces out of the country?” Yes, it would. If tens or hundreds of thousands of people were suddenly cut off from their blogs, they would start demanding answers and change. By cutting off a single blogger, you, MSN, make it easier for the repression to be missed or ignored. Cutting off thousands of blogs would make both our values and their apparent. I think making the contrast clear is worthwhile. We have values that are worth standing up for, and I wish Microsoft saw it that way.